Can I Help You Carry Your Burden Today?

All of us are saddled with hardships, and we strain and buckle under many burdens. Few resources are as valuable and treasured as people who can come to our aid, share in our troubles, and help us carry burdens. Nobody can go it alone, nor are we designed to manage and navigate life by ourselves.

Some among us are natural caretakers, often drawn to the “helping” professions: health care, social work, and other jobs that nurture, teach, and support. At times, almost everyone is called upon to assist loved ones or those delegated to our care. It may be a parent, another family member, a friend, a person to whom one ministers, community outreach, or even an animal.

Some caretaking requires the administration of direct services (such as medical care), That someone earns a livelihood performing such service does not diminish its compassionate value. Many times, we may be called upon to join someone experiencing a rough time, to be there, to join emotionally, and to shoulder part of the burden. In some religious sects, professional mourners are hired to “wail” along with the bereaved.

Whether by a friend, support group, family member, or professional, it feels comforting and validating when someone rallies to our side, offering understanding, solace, direction, and help with tasks. We need others.

By nature, my profession involves helping others with their burdens. Though there are aspects of psychology that don’t deal directly with patients or their imminent problems, clinicians like myself are on the front lines dealing with people in pain and crises. We are emotional first responders.

First and foremost, helping someone in distress requires active listening. Those hurting need someone to hear and acknowledge their anguish. They need to know there is relief and hope, that someone cares and even knows what to do. This is not to say that listening by itself is enough or routinely the pathway to shouldering the burden. Ministration and action are often part of the plan. But, as the old adage goes, “They need to know that you care before they care what you know.”

Attitude of Service

Besides skills and experience, helping someone with a burden requires an attitude of service, the desire to be helpful, though it may require effort and sacrifice. Sympathy and empathy are precursors to be effective, but beyond the capacity for compassion is the desireto be there for and with a person in distress. You may not feel their pain or be in their circumstance, but you can insert yourself into the situation to play a helping role. Getting involved may carry fear or inner resistance, but these are outweighed by the calling and commitment to help. This attitude and desire are often borne of personal experience and gratitude for one’s own assistance through trauma. Paying it forward becomes a habit and grows more natural with practice and recognized opportunity.

Professionally, I listen to my patients as I acquire information that helps me assess, diagnose, and form a plan to relieve the distressing symptoms and conditions. As I exchange with each patient, I must discern relevant information (often from scattered and discursive disclosure), all the while providing reassurance and caring connection within the framework of realistic treatment and expectations. Sometimes, the best initial help is to acknowledge and validate the tremendous pain and hardship being revealed. Trauma is compelling and doesn’t want to be alone.

After initially getting to know each other, my treatment minimizes revisiting “the story” repeatedly and instead focuses on relieving the brain neurologically of its maladaptive patterns. As a treating doctor, I must maintain objectivity along with realistic expectations about outcomes, seasoned with hope and compassionate communication with my struggling patients. To come beside someone suffering adversity is to become more connected, humble, and appreciative. Along with knowing what to do, giving sound advice, and implementing effective action where requested or required, accompanying and listening are usually necessary. The sufferer may or may not know how to express or articulate this need.

In personal life, this holds true as well. Everyone has opportunities to help carry others’ burdens. Often these episodes form the bonds of lasting and meaningful relationships. Friends, colleagues, and family members who share sensitive and traumatic histories are reluctant to relinquish the bonds that brought them closer through adversity and exposed their vulnerabilities. Some of my deepest ties to loved ones revert back to what we suffered together, to times when I was there for them and other times when they were there for me.

Helping someone carry a burden can be significant without seeming heroic. A presence, a touch, an awkward expression or consolation is often enough, valued and remembered beyond measure. During times of overwhelming grief, my wife tells me, “Don’t cry.” Knowing her, I understand that she’s not inhibiting my tears or preventing weakness, but rather expressing in her own way and words her empathy for my pain. “Don’t cry” is her language for “When you hurt, I feel it and hurt, too, and am touched by your pain and susceptibility.” When she says “Don’t cry,” she is there to share my hurting and participate in my hardships. What a blessing!

If you are willing to help ease someone else’s burdens and thereby serve practically and grow spiritually and relationally, here are some guidelines to keep in mind:


We all want to be heard. This is especially important when we are needy or hurting. Active listening requires attention, emotional presence, and patience. The narrative in our own minds naturally challenges the legitimacy of another’s opinions and also seeks to contribute our “two cents” about what is true and helpful.

Sometimes, it seems that people like to complain, focus on the negative, or appear to enjoy the sound of their own voice. Digging beneath our own impatient and cynical tendencies, when we open our ears and hearts to the anguish of others, we can hear the desperate need to vent hurt, seek hope and connection, and gain reassurance and empathy.

Simply listening attentively and with emotional engagement, you can provide great support for the burdens of others. To engage emotionally doesn’t mean that you feel the same feelings or suffering as someone else, but rather that you communicate (verbally or otherwise) that you “get it” about their anguish. This is a skill that takes dedication and practice. A big part of listening is paying attention and withholding commentary that may be interpreted as critical, judgmental, or trying to “fix” the problem. Patient listening provides great value and is a precursor to acknowledgment. Inhibit the temptation to interrupt, as you listen patiently and wait for choice moments to ask questions or acknowledge.


To be effective, communication requires a transmission and a receipt by the intended audience. With interpersonal communication, this is accomplished by some form of acknowledgement. This takes place when you signal the speaker that you received and accepted what he says (not necessarily that you agree with it). Acknowledgment can be a simple nod, a muttering of “Uh-huh,” or a comment that indicates that you are connecting with the content or emotional message of the speaker. Well-timed comments such as, “I understand,” or “that must be overwhelming,” engage the person you are trying to help. Acknowledgment lets others know that you hear and are receptive and involved.

Relate, sympathize, empathize, comfort

Providing validation and emotional support are often the critical elements in helping with a burden. Others need to know that they are not alone in facing difficulties. Just as an oncologist need not have cancer to help cancer patients, you need not experience the particular affliction of those whom you support. What we all share in common is periodically dealing with life’s hardships and adversity. This develops compassion and empathy. Knowing what it is to be in pain, overwhelmed, confused, or downcast enables familiarity and emotional connection.

In some cases, you may have experienced the burden you are helping someone encounter. If so, you can share your experience, how you coped with the emotional turmoil, and perhaps what you discovered about the outcome. Knowing that others have been through similar challenges can provide hope, companionship, courage, and empowerment.


When the situation requires and you are able to do so, offering hands on assistance may be the most tangible help. Someone may need help with a project, an errand, or physical help, such as nursing care. Picking up groceries, changing bandages, giving rides are among common needs. Perhaps you can be a sponsor or buddy to someone in recovery. Lending a hand—literally—can be of utmost value.

A burden can be heavy in the emotional sense… but, some objects require multiple hands and people to move to safety or resolution. Besides appreciation for practical collaboration, helping with someone’s burden forms and deepens relational bonds and trust.


We all like to give opinions, since we tend to project our perspectives and values upon others about what’s right and how to live. Giving advice is a natural method of teaching, learning, and extending help. Though unrequested advice may not always be welcomed, when direction or advice is solicited, this is a way you can lead people out of the morass.

In the midst of confusion, overwhelm, or distress, the burdened individual may need advice, including a bigger picture perspective unfettered by emotional ambiguity. When done carefully and respectfully, giving appropriate advice can help with burdens and relive distress.

Substitute, Donate, Forgive 

From a practical standpoint, it’s often helpful to “stand in” for someone who is struggling or indisposed. As stated, running errands, transporting people, preparing meals are some ways to substitute for tasks that need doing.

Both personally and professionally, helpers can act as advocates to support or represent the interests of others. Sometimes, benefactors forgive monetary debts or make donations that benefit others and relieve heavy financial burdens. The Hebrew word, tzedakah, means charity, but is a strict sense, it also means righteousness—that is, generosity that benefits the giver while enabling the receiver to become more independent and self-sufficient.

Even if you are not in a position to help monetarily, your conscious acts of forgiveness for trespasses against you go a long way toward assuaging burdens. Remember that you, too, have been forgiven.


Believers in God know that the spiritual and intangible realms are just as realistic and important as what is knowable tangibly. Biblical wisdom exhorts us to “pray without ceasing.” When this becomes a habit and part of a lifestyle, prayer integrates seamlessly with daily activities. Though there may be sequestered times devoted only to prayer, thoughts throughout the day offer powerful behind-the-scenes support for the burdens of others. Praying together with someone may be welcomed or awkward. Nonetheless, when you pray privately for others, God is paying attention and he is the great accepter and reliever of burdens.

Don’t be shy about expressing your heart on behalf of others in need. You may never draw a straight line between your prayers and relief—but, be assured that God hears and answers. Intervene for others in this spiritual dimension. Be confident that what you do privately matters and lightens the burden.

Be there 

Most of all, being available and present whenever possible is the bedrock of helping someone carry a burden. Your presence provides emotional support and perhaps practical collaboration. Significantly, your being there brings reassurance, compassion, and unspoken caring and commitment.

When you are around to listen, respond (sometimes), offer a hand, or simply, on occasion, commiserate, you provide strength, courage, and resilience to those in need as well as yourself. Acts of service are, after all, why we are here.

Helping someone carry burdens requires effort, commitment, emotional availability, and sacrifice. Despite this work. Surprisingly, it will make your load lighter.

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